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Publish and be damned

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HAVE you ever thought of writing a veterinary book – a technical one, I mean, not a James Herriot look-a-like? Well, many years ago now, a tempting request came to me, from someone who happened to be the country's foremost authority on the subject, so how could I refuse? She had originally contracted with publishers to write the book herself but when she found she could not do it, they insisted that she find an alternative author. Even though I was only a couple of months away from retirement, for her to consider me the next best choice as an author for the book was rather flattering and tempting. At the time, she gave two reasons for being unable to do the job herself but, in retrospect, I wonder whether her previous experience of book publishing had anything to do with it.

I met the publisher. He was charming, business-like and with a discerning knowledge of the lunching places in London, which helped to seal the deal. I was loaded down with details about house-style for chapters, side headings and subheadings, for numbers, for tables and diagrams, and so on. The book was to be one of a series of three, with a series editor who should see each chapter as it was written and offer advice. I was then to submit the manuscript on both floppy disk (remember those?) and as a double-spaced printout. Having agreed to it all, I came away feeling as though I'd sold my soul away.

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I was able to make frequent visits to the British Library, but when I started writing, the magnificent library at St Pancras was still being built and the resources I needed always happened to be in some dingy and hot premises near Aldwych, where I always seemed to be on the wrong floor. At least the staff were excellent and I managed to accumulate a large quantity of notes by the time I began writing. However, my computer wasn't exactly up to the minute. In fact, my software was treated with scorn by the publishing staff. Nonetheless, by some miracle, my files were able to open and appear on the publisher's screen so they had to accept them.

Throughout most of the writing-up process, I was stuck between the series editor, who I didn't find helpful, as I profoundly disagreed with a majority of his suggestions, and the publisher, who on the other hand supported me. ‘It's your book,’ he'd say and I was encouraged enough to carry on.

When I was perhaps a third of the way through, the publishers were taken over by a foreign company and I suddenly lost all contact. Eventually, I was briefly telephoned. I don't know where from, but it was then about another six months before I was contacted by someone else, who described herself as a personal assistant rather than a publishing executive. I never did learn the name of her boss.

Eventually the job was done! I had to send the floppy disks and hard copy to the printers. It was some months before the galley proofs arrived. Because the subject was technical, the text was steadily becoming obsolete – not so much wrong as incomplete – so I had to correct and add to the proofs while on holiday. Later there were page proofs and the binding. The proposed cover design came as an e-mail attachment, which in those days took 40 minutes to arrive! How could one object to it after all that?

At last, it was time to go to press. The charming publisher I had originally met with had emphasised that, contrary to what many authors normally expected, the book would not be published the day after I wrote the final word: the average interval before publication was about eight months. In my case, my book's time in limbo stretched out to a total of 26 months. But for all that, and despite all the difficulties and delays, when the copies finally arrived, having the book in my hands felt great.

If you would like to contribute to ‘A practitioner ponders’, please e-mail inpractice{at}bva-edit.co.uk for further information. We pay a small honorarium for contributions that are published.

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